Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Some thoughts on Online Learning Structures

I have been contributing to a conversation on H-Net for Online Education: H-Net List for Online Education in the Humanities and thought it might be useful to share my comments here on my blog for others to respond or comment:

Hi Boria, Dale, et. al.: I'm enjoying your conversation and find myself agreeing with both of you (Boria and Dale at this juncture)! I certainly share the sense of the early euphoria of teaching in this new environment and developing our own rules and structures. I taught my first online course in early 1997, built from raw html and focused on a chat room converted to an asynchronous bulletin board. Today the same institution, UWW Skidmore College, is still building each course from scratch using Dreamweaver after involving each faculty member in the initial development stage of his or her course. Naturally, some template qualities have appeared but there is truly no structured CMS rigidity. this term I'm teaching again for UWW and another institution using Blackboard. My sense is that some of the problems we face as instructors follow from the learning culture and structures adopted by individual institutions. I am getting better responses from my UWW students than from my other folks and part of that I believe grows out of BB's more structured environment and very likely from the desire of other faculty members to control their learning space. The result seems to be more like what Boria describes: students with a clear expectation of making as few (and least meaningful) postings possible--until pushed, as Dale suggests, to broaden their postings and the range and quality of those interactions. (If I can get a plug in, my colleague, Carla Payne, and I, have written a piece for a special edition of On The Horizon an online journal that Boria is editing, entitled "Can We Talk? Course Management Software and the Construction of Knowledge," which address many of these same issues in more detail.)

My sense is that we must move away from CMS's like Blackboard or find ways to make these broadcast CMS's more like the internet itself: narrowband, point-to-point. The individual skills, talents and unique vision of faculty have to be respected--as does the need to get learner involvement at the very beginning, as Dale suggests. Moodle http://moodle.org/ or similar Open Source CMS's offer a much better learning philosophy but perhaps not a real great difference in templated structures.

I'm doubtful that we are actually taking learning advantage of the internet itself. We are still in the horseless carriage stage of this new enterprise--borrowing the structures of the past (the horse and buggy lecture) to build the car (horseless buggy BB) of the future. I feel strongly we should be much more concerned about the aesthetics of online learning (color, graphics, images, etc); we should be doing much more serious game playing (simulations); using the internet much more on the fly to reference additional sources and, we need help from our more technically inclined people to build a totally new bulletin board platform. The best I know of now is the latest version of Phorum but it still remains a "forum" (they call them msgs) and "threads" environment. I think we can do better. I hope others will join this discussion--its one of the best I have seen on H-Net for Online Ed. corky

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